Dealing With Youthful Passions

by Jimmy Akin

in Moral Theology, Sacraments

I regularly receive inquiries from individuals–particularly young men–who wish to overcome the habit of masturbation and who have a variety of pastoral questions about it.

Recently I decided to begin a page on my blog answering questions concerning this so that others can benefit from the answers. Please be assured, as always, that any questions submitted to me by e-mail will be rigorously "anonymized" (stripped of personally identifying information).

Before beginning to answer the questions, I'd also like to offer a word of hope.

In 2 Timothy 2:22, St. Paul tells St. Timothy to "shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart."

Masturbation is not specifically what St. Paul is referring to here ("youthful passions" is a broader category than just masturbation), but I'd like to call attention to his phrase "youthful passions" because it implies hope for those who are struggling against these. While sexual temptation can be an ongoing problem, it is felt with particular intensity by young men.

So, if you're in your teens or 20s and the struggle is truly great at this point, have hope! Things will get easier with time, and you won't have to fight this kind of struggle forever. I can't promise that temptation will go away entirely, but the kind of intense struggle that many young men go through does get better.

Also, as a general matter, I would recommend that individuals check out the materials that are available at chastity.com and see if these are of help to them.

Now, on to questions/issues from readers:

KEEP READING.

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{ 15 comments }

Anonymous Coward October 19, 2010 at 8:49 pm

Tips that helped me stop:
- Having a daughter
- Listening to podcasts and watching videos of talks by other men willing to talk openly about the issue (such as The Catholic Hack)
- Stop having anything to do with porn or even suggestive photos like apparel sites or ads. Get an ad blocker for your web browser. Treat it like AA for awhile, avoid any pictures that lead you to bad thoughts for a period before and after you stop. Eventually the hypersensitivity wears off and you don’t have to avert your eyes to every little thing (like a bare shoulder) and you can begin living a normal life again.
- Confessing to the same confessor (even through the screen) is a *MUST* Jimmy recommended getting a spiritual director. That helps, but if you can’t get that, simply going to the same priest at your parish or another parish is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT.
I went to the same priest many times confessing the same thing every time and eventually he yelled at me to “STOP IT! JUST STOP IT! YOUR SOUL IS IN DANGER!” That’s what I needed to hear. All the other priest would equivocate or say “You’re being too hard on yourself, force of habit means it’s not a mortal sin” I needed another man who had conquered this sin to tell me to STOP IT.
So I’m telling you all now, STOP IT. Just STOP IT. You CAN DO IT. You’re a man. STOP IT. WILL IT AND YOU WILL BE ABLE TO STOP IT!

The Pachyderminator October 19, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Thank you, Jimmy.
This should be a permapost, especially since it seems the page is being maintained apart from the regular post thread.

Anne Marie October 19, 2010 at 9:39 pm

Ok,,,,so here’s a diff angle. I’m a devout Catholic woman, married 32 years with an active and satisfying sex life. My husband, undergoing whatever type of mid-life crisis, left a few months ago and hasn’t been seen since. I am having a horrid time w/ sexual issues and have been going thru a cycle of masturbation, confession, masturbation, confession…ACK…is there any hope??! (Btw…there IS no hope of reconciliation…apparently I’m to blame for everything, he is def not at fault for anything!)

Yeoman October 20, 2010 at 7:15 am

I thought I’d note that Catholic Answers, the excellent Catholic radio show, had a speaker on its program recently who discussed the psychology of pornography addiction. I can’t recall his name, but as Jimmy frequently appears on the same program, perhaps he can.
Anyhow, the speaker, a Christian psychologist, was really illuminating about how pornography essentially maps a path on the brain and this forms the “addiction”. I really highly recommend the program as I think it offered a lot of insight and hope into that topic. I realize that this topic isn’t strictly the same one, but it’s close in a way, as the speaker did relate masturbation to viewing pornography and described the psychology of masturbation as well. Perhaps going to Confession coupled with understanding what’s going on inside a person’s head would be an overall help to some.

A Different Anonymous Coward October 20, 2010 at 7:22 am

Anytime you are tempted to sin in this way, make the sign of the cross. It’s like taking a spiritual cold shower.

Martin October 20, 2010 at 7:42 am

Anne Marie,
Excellent advice from ADAC about making the sign of the Cross in times of sexual temptation.
I also pray an Ave Maria and ask Our Lady of Purity for help in times of sexual temptation.
We must remember that the Father of Lies knows our besetting sins and in our fallen nature, abuse of the sexual function is one of the biggies.
We must remember and make a conscious act of the will to acknowledge the fact that our sexual organs only serve two purposes in Almighty Gods plan:
procreation and
unity, and both of these are only to be used between a validly married man and woman.
I understand the massive temptations of misuse of the flesh.
I am close to 50 years of age and still battle these temptations as much as I did when I was 20, and I am married.
The Lord has seen fit to give my wife a disabling disease that prevents us from a regular life of sexual procreation and union.
But I see this burden as a way to follow our Lords great mandate to take up our cross daily and follow Him.
So, we offer this up for the salvation of loved ones.

Matheus October 20, 2010 at 7:51 am

Firstly, it’s nice to see you again, Jimmy, and let me say that I hope you’re here (back…for the last time…again… :) ) to stay, for a change. If not, I humbly suggest you to let this blog die with dignity and stick with the bland and boring Regnum Christi one.
Regarding the subject, perhaps it could be worth mentioning that these individuals really must come to terms with the sinful thoughts/mindset that prompts them to masturbate, otherwise they are bound to keep being tomented by graphic and disturbing wet dreams long after giving up the vice of masturbation.
Also, for some people the habit of masturbation may not involve the use of porn at all, but arise from sinful thoughts involving some hypothetical or imaginary girlfriend/wife they don’t have, and whenever they have these thoughts, they must repel them ASAP.

thomas tucker October 20, 2010 at 7:16 pm

With regard to whether or not it is a mortal sin in a particular case, and whether or not deliberate consent was given, I think it is useful to ask yourself whether or not it was premeditated. If it was, then that is a mortal sin. If not, then deliberate consent was not given.

Christopher October 20, 2010 at 10:42 pm

I will keep the young man who sent the question in in my prayers as well as the others here who are having a hard time.
St. Augustine got over his sexual passions, as have many other saints throughout the history of the Church. On top of that, imagine the untold numbers of the ordinary faithful who have done likewise through the inspiration and intercession of the Saints and especially the Blessed Virgin. Don’t lose hope or faith… because although the evil one does attack us through our weaknesses, lustful sin isn’t his goal. His real goal is to murder within us our faith and hope which connect us to Jesus and the Father.
As hard as this sin is to overcome, the willingness to fight such a thing is very courageous. Pray for courage and grace to never lay down and die or forsake the forgiveness that Christ has bought for us.

SteveE October 21, 2010 at 10:51 am

I once heard some advice about purity that I had thought sounded unlikely to work, but I am now strongly in favor of it: exercise.
I think the reason I was skeptical at first is that at the time I was doing a lot of heavy strength training, which for some (men in particular) can actually invigorate their emotions and passions. Nowadays I am doing a more balanced workout with lots of medium to high intensity cardio on a regular basis.
The cardio hasn’t made me a saint by any means, and confession is still the absolute best help for me, but I definitely can feel the difference in my daily life. Plus I am healthier which is a nice bonus. I would even say that on exercise days my outlook is more positive and my emotions in general are moderated. If someone reading this finds that anger, sadness, or sloth will create circumstances that lead them into the confessional, this advice might work for you too.
This might not work for everyone (some people may not be able to exercise for many different reasons), but I’m sure someone out there might find this helpful.

Yeoman October 21, 2010 at 4:26 pm

On exercise, exercise had been shown to reduce incidents or bouts of depression.
I mention this as in a way I think all these topics are related. Masturbation may be a youthful passion, but it also can be a release for those who seemingly haven’t developed another one, and for those who are under stress. Stress is also associated with depression. In the Catholic Answers radio show I heard the speaker associated depression with pornography viewing in some (and with masturbation as well). Indeed, he theorized that not only was depression common in this condition, but that medications that treated depression actually had the beneficial side effect of lowering the libido.
I don’t know about the medication angle of that, but the rest of it makes sense to me. A persons depressed, has no other release, and has trained themselves by habit to go in this direction. I’m sure that isn’t universal, but I bet it’s the case, in varying degrees, with some.

RB October 21, 2010 at 4:28 pm

I suffered from this as an addiction. It reached addiction levels with the aid of pornography on the internet–computer in the home. I tried quitting, couldnt. Always put it off. Finally I decided to get serious….but couldnt quit. Would confess to a priest 2-3 times a week sometimes , other times just once a month, frequently 7 or more times a month. I’d come out of confession and be good from 1 or 7 or up to 14 days at best. I’d switch priests and at which parish frequently so I would have less embarrassment from the repetition of this. Some priests are actually gay and/or effeminate, so my confession would indicate that I spent the last 2-3 days engaging in pornography and masturbation, instead of ‘I did it 10-12 times last night’. Counts were not included in these things and I wasnt counting. One gay priest, who by the way was a good confessor, wanted a look-see at me, by handing me some literature in a way that forced me to come forward to him–he wouldnt properly extend his arm. Some months later that same priest was leading a 1 day retreat that I attended and he made a comment towards me indicative of the things I or he said in the confessional. He wears mascara on his eyes. Very embarrasing, all these things! One priest , irish and very old and a bit of a curmudgeon said I should throw away the computer–that wasnt going to happen. I tried putting my computer in a public place in the house, but i’d cheat on that, or move it in the bedroom for my temp. use. I tried every strategy I could think of under the sun. This went on with very frequent confession, trying to use a ‘safe internet censored’ service but I could cheat on that. This continued on for up to 3 years before I finally turned to God and said to him after confession that I would throw the computer away if it happened 1 more time. Miraculously, it didnt happen anymore after that–the Lords Gift. Then I had to think of how to protect myself so that it wouldnt happen anymore. I had to protect my eyes, no more even looking at girls in bikinis on the internet , protect my eyes. Something that might be lewd and lead my addicted part of my brain to think of these things had to be avoided.
Internet, TV, movies, protect my eyes. This builds strength over time. I’ve been 100% free for close to 4 years. Thanks to God.

The Masked Chicken October 21, 2010 at 5:44 pm

I don’t know about the medication angle of that, but the rest of it makes sense to me. A persons depressed, has no other release, and has trained themselves by habit to go in this direction. I’m sure that isn’t universal, but I bet it’s the case, in varying degrees, with some.
This is a complicated issue. Depression depresses certain regions of the brain. but which regions are depressed are not universal. It also can cause change in hormones, such as cortisol. Some people will lose libido. Some will become less restrained because they have lost hope (most will lose libido, however). Anti-depressants, for the most part, cause a loss of libido, but not always. The manic phase of manic-depression is characterized by hypersexuality, typically.
Some brain tumors can lead to hypersexuality, as well. There was one incident, about three years ago, where a convict propositioned every woman who walked by. It was discovered that he had a brain tumor (I will skip the details) and when it was removed, the tendency went away.
We actually know surprisingly little about the neurobiology of sexual arousal in humans.
As for the Internet, what one is sending is really ones and zeros, essentially, dots and dashes. It is a high-speed form of telegraphy, where the words formed by the dots and dashes are computer code. Up until recently, every one who used Morse code had to pass a licensing exam. If the Internet had developed either from business or the military directly to the public instead of via academia (military ARPANET to NSF backbone), we would have had everyone pass a test and actually understand something about what they were doing on-line in order to get a license to use the Internet. If everyone were registered, there would be very little pornography on the Internet because it would be just something like Ham radio. We blew it, from the beginning. Unfortunately, the Internet went public at the same time that Academics were being relativists, so anything went. Had the Internet developed in the 1940′s after the War, it would be completely different.
The Chicken

The Masked Chicken October 21, 2010 at 6:32 pm

The best advice I have read on this topic does not come from a modern-day study, but rather from an old masterpiece (1589 A. D.): The Spiritual Combat, by Fr. Dom Lorenzo Scupoli (1530 – 1610 A. D.). St. Francis de Sales carried a copy with him for 18 years. Fr. Benedict Groeschel wrote the preface to one of the translations. A complete copy may be found, here. I am presenting, here, chapter 16 under Fair Use. The work, itself, is in the public domain, but the Internet site is copyrighted.
The Chicken
CHAPTER XIX
Of the way to resist the sins of the Flesh
These sins must be resisted in a way peculiar to themselves, and different from the method used against any other temptation.
In order, therefore, to a successful resistance, three periods must be observed.
I. Before the temptation.
II. During the temptation.
III. After the temptation.
I. Before the temptation the struggle must be against those things which generally occasion it.
First, you must combat the vice, but never confront it; on the contrary, avoid to the utmost of your power every occasion and every person where you may incur the slightest danger. And if at times compelled to converse with such, let it be briefly, with a grave and modest demeanor, and with worlds of severity rather than of excessive tenderness and affability.
Neither be confident in yourself if you are free, and during many years of such exercises have continued free from temptations of the flesh; for this accursed vice makes its advances secretly, often doing in an hour what in many years it had failed to effect; and it hurts the more grievously, and wounds the more fatally, the more friendly the form it assumes, and the less ground of suspicion it seems to give.
And there is often great danger, as experience has shown and still shows, in intercourse which is indulged in under fair and lawful pretexts, such as kindred, relations of duty, or, again, great virtue in the person beloved. For the poisonous pleasure of sense insinuates itself into this over-frequent and imprudent intercourse, instilling its venom gradually, until it penetrates into the marrow of the soul and darkens the reason more and more, till at last no account is made of things which are really dangerous, such as mutual glances of tenderness, loving words, and the enjoyment of conversation; and so, a change creeping over both, they fall at last into destruction, or into some temptation most hard and toilsome to overcome.
Once more I say to you, Fly! for you are as stubble. Trust not to being bathed and filled with the water of a good and strong purpose, and resolved and ready to die rather than offend God; for, inflamed by frequent stirring the heat of the fire will gradually dry up the water of thy good resolve, and when you are least on your guard, it will so enkindle you that you will respect neither friends nor kindred, nor fear God, nor regard life or honor nor all the pains of hell. Therefore fly, fly unless you would be overtaken, captured, and slain.
Secondly, avoid idleness, and be awake and vigilant, and busied with the thoughts and deeds which befit your state of life.
Thirdly, never resist the will of your superiors; but show them a ready obedience, fulfilling promptly all their commands, and most willingly such as humble you most, and are most opposed to your natural will and inclination.
Fourthly, beware of forming rash judgments of your neighbor, especially with regard to this vice; and if he have manifestly fallen, have pity on him; be not bitter against him, nor hold him in contempt; but rather gather from his fall the fruit of humility and self-knowledge, confessing yourself to be but dust and ashes, drawing nearer unto God in prayer, and shunning more carefully than ever all intercourse wherein there may be even the shadow of danger.
For if you are forward to judge and despise others, God will correct you to your cost, and suffer you to fall into the same fault in order to convince you of your weakness, that by such a humiliation both sins may be cured.
And even if you should escape this sin yet, unless you lay aside your uncharitable judgment of others, your state will be very insecure.
Fifthly and lastly, beware, lest, finding yourself favored with some enjoyment of spiritual delights, you feel a certain vain complacency therein, and imagine yourself to be something, and that your enemies are now no longer able to assault you, because you seem to yourself to regard them with disgust, horror, and detestation. If you are incautious in this matter, you will easily fall.
II. During the temptation, consider whether it proceeds from internal or external causes.
By external, I mean curiosity of the eyes or ears, over-softness in dress, habits, and conversations, which excite to this sin.
The remedies in this case are purity, modesty, the refraining from seeing or hearing any thing which excites to this vice, and, as I said before, flight.
The internal are either the rebellion of the flesh, or thoughts of the mind proceeding from our own evil habits or from the suggestion of the devil.
The rebellion of the flesh must be mortified by fasts, disciplines, hair-shirts, vigils, and other similar austerities, as discretion and obedience may direct.
Against evil thoughts, from whatever source arising, the remedies are as follows :
1. Occupation in the various duties proper to our state of life.
2. Prayer and meditation.
Prayer should be made in the following manner:
When first conscious of the presence of these evil thoughts, or even of such as may betoken their approach, fly for refuge at once to the Crucifix, saying: “My Jesus! my sweet Jesus! help me speedily, that I may not fall into the hands of this enemy.”
And sometimes, embracing the cross on which your Lord is extended, and kissing repeatedly the wounds of His sacred feet, say lovingly: “O beauteous wounds! chaste wounds! holy wounds! wound now this miserable impure heart of mine, and free it from all that offends Thee.”
At the moment when temptations to carnal pleasures assail you, I do not advise you to meditate upon certain points recommended in many books as remedies against these temptations, such as the vileness of this vice, its insatiable craving, the bitterness and loathing, the peril and ruin of estate, life, honor, etc. which follow in its train.
This is not always a certain method of overcoming the temptation; for if the mind repels these thoughts on the one hand, on the other they afford an opportunity, and expose us to the danger of taking pleasure in, and consenting to, them. Therefore the true remedy in all these cases is flight, not from these thoughts alone, but from everything, however contrary to them, which may bring them before us.
Let your meditation, then, for this end be on the Life and Passion of our crucified Redeemer.
And should the same thoughts again intrude themselves against your will, and molest you more than ever, as will very probably happen, be not discouraged on this account, nor leave off your meditation, but continue it with all possible intensity; not even turning from it to repel such thoughts, but giving yourself no more concern about them than if they in no way belonged to you. There is no better method than this of resisting them, how incessant so-ever may be their attacks.
You will then conclude your meditation with this or some similar supplication: “Deliver me, O my Creator and Redeemer, from mine enemies, to the honor of Thy Passion and of Thine unspeakable goodness.” Suffer not your thoughts to recur again to the subject; for the bare recollection of it is not without danger.
Neither stay at any time to reason with such temptations, to find out whether you have consented to them or not; for this is a device of the devil, who seeks, under the semblance of good, to disquiet you, and make you distrustful and faint-hearted, or hopes, by entangling you in such discussions, to draw you into some sin.
Therefore, in this temptation, when the consent is not evident, it is sufficient that you confess the whole briefly to your spiritual father, and then rest satisfied with his opinion, without thinking of it more.
But be sure faithfully to reveal every thought to him; and neither be restrained from so doing by shame or any other consideration.
For if, in dealing with all our enemies, we need the grace of humility to enable us to subdue them, in this case more than in any other we are bound to humble ourselves; this vice being almost always the punishment of pride.
III. When the temptation is over, however free, however perfectly secure you may feel yourself from danger, keep far from all those objects which gave rise to the temptation, even though you should be induced to do otherwise for some apparently good and useful end. For this is a deception of our evil nature, and a snare of our cunning adversary, who transforms himself into an angel of light to bring us into darkness.

Dan October 22, 2010 at 8:57 am

Thank you Masked Chicken.
I will pay attention to those great words.

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